Interview by Rivqa Rafael.
Helen Stubbs is an excitable fiction and feature writer living on the Gold Coast, Australia. She loves expanding the vibrancy of local arts and culture through writing and creating community arts projects (like Writers Activation and Contact 2016) and partnerships that operate inclusively and aim for a neutral or positive effect on the environment. Helen’s stories have been published in The Never Never Land, Next and other anthologies and magazines. Sometimes she wins awards and climbs things she shouldn’t. Chat with her on Twitter: @superleni or check out her blog.
I wish I lived closer to the Gold Coast so I could get to Writers Activation, the writing space you curate. How did this project come about, and what has it been like to run?
You should come and hang out with us, Rivqa! Writers Activation is pretty amazing. We’re celebrating our first birthday at the moment. Our party was on 30th July, 2016 with pizza, trivia and fancy dress.
When Council started the Found project (which WAct is part of) they didn’t really know what they were offering… it was $2000 and an opportunity to create city-shaping projects (which sounds cool, right!). Then I was asked what I would do with a space. As a writer, I don’t need much space… I could stay in my tiny office for days.
I went into it asking a lot of questions – what does the local writing community want and need? How would they use a space? It turns out people want somewhere to write and to talk about their projects, or the book they want to write.
People seemed to want a writing centre. Council began to broker relationships between vacant shop owners and creatives, like me. Australia Fair offered me a really nice space with a street shopfront and a few small rooms. Lots of people came on board; old friends and new, bringing in furniture and chipping in to clean and move things in.
It’s been an interesting project because it’s grown naturally, to be what people needed. Meeting more local writers has definitely been a highlight, for me.
Although we started out with a three-month lease, we ended up being there for about ten months, until the shop was leased commercially. Then Australia Fair invited us to move next door. They’ve provided us with free space and electricity for a year.
Over the year we’ve hosted workshops, open mic nights, and stacks of meetings. We’ve collaborated with the city art gallery on competitions. We’ve promoted launches and performance events all over the Coast. Some people come in regularly to write. Some read the locally written books we have on our shelves.
The main challenge has been not letting it take over my life. Our opening hours aren’t all that regular, and at least one person is cranky about that.
WAct has started some people writing fiction and/or improved their skills, and it’s nurtured friendship groups, built networks and provided a productive space for people to write.
Apart from Writers Activation, you interview for Galactic Chat and acted as treasurer for the Contact 2016 committee. What’s it like juggling so many commitments with writing and other responsibilities?
I find it hard to say no to exciting projects and people I want to work with! I love the social aspects of those projects.
Sometimes it gets too much. I’m pretty good at carving out writing time usually, but at the moment I’m feeling the pinch. My projects and busy-ness seem to come in waves, and I’ll focus on one thing when I have to.
I’m also okay at slacking off at things; I’m gentle with myself in that sense. I haven’t recorded a Galactic Chat episode in a while, and that’s okay. Looking after my family is pretty intensive, too, as my seven-year-old has autism. I prioritise exercise because I have to be fit to keep up with him.
But I’m usually working on a story and thinking about a longer work. I’d like to make it so it’s the other way round, so writing comes first, but it feels kind of selfish and also requires disciplined focus and solitude which would be a bit of an adjustment for me.
I love the dark, rich settings of your short fiction. What do you have on the horizon?
You’re too sweet!
“Uncontainable,” is coming out in Apex Magazine at the end of this year. A main character in it is an autistic child, the narrator is gender-flexible, and there’s and kind old lady with something strange beneath her long coat. I’m looking forward to getting edits for this soon.
“Twire” is coming out in Unfettered some time this year, too. It’s a fairytale-esque story of grown brothers lost in the woods, rescued by a handsome young woman. It’s eerie, textured and there’s taxidermy. Unfettered is going to be gorgeously illustrated book, by Brisbane publisher Tiny Owl. So exciting!
I also have a story in Jodi Cleghorn’s latest release, The Heart is an Echo Chamber. It’s called “Princess of Swords”. In it I play with tarot and vengeful mortally impatient lovers, in response to one of Jodi’s stories published in No Need to Reply.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
At Contact (the national SF convention), Bill Wright sang the praises of Louise Katz’s The Orchid Nursery so I picked it up and got an autograph to boot. And, fuck yeah, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale on a bad acid trip. I have a habit of stalling mid-book, and I have. I just read a gruesome scene in it and my fingers are curling at the prospect of picking it up again.
Before that I enjoyed Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell.
I also loved making Contact happen. Seeing a con from the inside was an entirely different experience and it was great to work with the committee and volunteers. And handing you your Best New Talent Ditmar was a pleasure and an honour.
I have *all the respect* for the administrators of cons and awards, they put in so much time and effort to make these things happen.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Oh, geeze. I’d probably say John Wyndham, but only if he’s nice and won’t spill his whiskey on me. That’s the worst, wet jeans on a plane trip. But maybe he’d apologise and buy me a drink – then we could really talk!
I particularly liked Consider Her Ways. Wyndham wrote it in the 1950s and it imagines a future world without men, suggesting they were troublesome and the world is better off without them, which I don’t agree with, but I’m intrigued by the sort of person who envisions a better future without their group in it. It’s like an ultimate altruism, and a slightly depressed, achy perspective, which attracts me.
In a similar sense, the Earth is likely to be better without polluting humans… Australia would be better without white people. It’s an interesting way to look at things, which I sometimes indulge in…
I’d like to see him play with an iPhone.
Failing that, how about you or Rebecca Fraser? I don’t see nearly enough of either of you.